Probable Cause Determinations in MT DUI

In State v. Haller (2013 MT 199), Dwayne Haller challenged the procedure which lead to his conviction for felony DUI. He argued that he was entitled to a preliminary examination within 48 hours of his arrest. Because a preliminary examination was not held within 48 hours of his arrest, Haller believed, the State had to prove that the time that it took for him to receive a probable cause determination was reasonable. The Montana Supreme Court disagreed, and held that he was conflating the two procedures that require a finding of probable cause. The Court provided the following analysis:

Section 46–6–311(1), MCA, provides that “[a] peace officer may arrest a person when a warrant has not been issued if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person is committing an offense or that the person has committed an offense and existing circumstances require immediate arrest.” To ensure that the officer correctly determined that there was probable cause to make the arrest, the Fourth Amendment gives a criminal defendant who has been arrested without a warrant the right to a prompt probable cause determination by a neutral and detached magistrate. Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 124–25 (1975).

Section 46–11–110, MCA, also gives a defendant a right to a judicial determination of probable cause before the prosecution can be commenced in justice court. A sworn affidavit submitted with a complaint is a proper basis for the probable cause determination required by the Fourth Amendment. State v. Brown, 1999 MT 339, ¶ 15, 297 Mont. 427, 993 P.2d 672.

Following all arrests, an initial appearance must be conducted before the nearest and most accessible judge without unnecessary delay. Section 46–7–101, MCA (emphasis added). The Montana Supreme Court has noted that this statute, together with the requirement to inform defendants of their rights set out in § 46–7–102, MCA, is designed to “ensure that a criminal prosecution begins promptly and with a recognition of the defendant’s essential rights.” State v. Strong, 2010 MT 163, ¶ 11, 357 Mont. 114, 236 P.3d 580. In addition, before leave to file an information in district court can be granted, a separate determination of probable cause must be made.

There are three different procedures by which the State can obtain the requisite probable cause determination before filing charges in district court: 1) a preliminary examination; 2) direct application to the district court for leave to file an information; or 3) indictment by a grand jury.1 Section 46–10–105, MCA. The State may utilize whatever process it wishes; a defendant is not entitled to any specific procedure. State v. Farnsworth, 240 Mont. 328, 332, 783 P.2d 1365, 1368 (1989). Montana has adopted a flexible standard that requires the district court determination to be made within “a reasonable time” after the defendant’s initial appearance. State v. Higley, 190 Mont. 412, 419, 621 P.2d 1043, 1048 (1980); see also § 46–10–105, MCA.

 

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